15 August, Dehiwela, Sri Lanka

By Adilah Ismail

It’s been five months now but I still don’t know how to navigate life. Today, I step out for a walk with friends after being cloistered at home for a few days, restless and a little unwell. There’s an unusually large crowd gathered at the park at 6.30 am for a running event.

We pick up groceries on our way back. I’ve always enjoyed grocery shopping and now there’s a renewed pleasure in it. Today, we are the first customers at a freshly stocked supermarket. The first item in my basket is a fistful of fresh coriander leaves; garnishing for curries, a chutney for the week, salad staple. 

We’ve been taking precautions even as we go out for work, for errands, to meet people, to vote. Our family hasn’t mustered up the resolve to go out of Colombo yet. Certain members of the family would be considered high-risk for the virus and this knowledge hovers over everything we do. How do you maintain the right balance between being cautious and continuing to live your life in a pandemic? 

In many ways, it feels as though COVID-19 has tuned up the muffled ambient uncertainty, which has always hummed in the background of our lives, into a high pitched frequency we can’t brush aside. The last time I fully felt the weight of this was during my father’s illness a few years ago, when his life hung in the balance. There is that feeling of disorientation when your constants are yanked away and you are forced to reroute priorities, pause and then learn how to yield to the realization that perhaps, perhaps we were never really in control in the first place. 

When I get home, I shower and head to the kitchen to do some food prep for the next week. The coriander leaves are so fresh, it seems a pity to have them wilt even for a day in the fridge. I check Facebook and Facebook memories informs me that I had shared a quote on this day last year: ‘there are years that ask questions and years that answer’.

I hew the coriander stalks and leaves into uneven clumps and add them to the grinder. I know what kind of year this is.